Lisa Brenner and Chris Ceraso promote diversity, equal representation
April 2021 – Drew University professors Lisa Brenner and Chris Ceraso recently published Represent! New Plays for Multicultural Youth, an anthology of plays with diversity in theme, characters, and representation.
Brenner, chair of the Theatre & Dance Department and professor of theatre arts, and Ceraso, professor of theatre arts, included plays created for the school’s AdvantageArts program, which joins Drew students with Newark, NJ, high schoolers in a mutually beneficial learning process, with Drew students honing theatre skills while mentoring young students.
The plays in the anthology offer young actors the opportunity to perform characters who share their backgrounds and whose relationships and environments resemble their own, just as they were created for the students in the AdvantageArts program, which Brenner and Ceraso run, with help from Kimani Fowlin, visiting assistant professor of theatre arts and dance, and Judy Tate, adjunct professor of theatre arts.
The book, which features a foreword by MacArthur Genius Dominique Morriseau, also appeals to directors, educators, and students, seeking diverse plays that expand representation, particularly in terms of race and gender.
“While the characters’ struggles are universal—loss of loved ones, peer pressure, existential questions about the meaning of life, the desire to achieve one’s dreams—they are grounded in a specific social reality and historical context that is often under-represented on stage,” said Brenner.
“Rather than proselytize a message, these plays portray the complexity, variety, and depth of the personal and communal concerns of the young people for whom they have been created.”
In addition to the selection of plays, the anthology includes lesson plans corresponding to each of the plays for educators, teaching artists, and theatre companies to delve into the plays’ content and form.
The exercises, modeled after the aesthetic education developed by the Lincoln Center Institute and the Manhattan Theatre Club Education Program, ask students to grapple with and respond to the plays’ central themes and questions through artistic expression, forging connections between the worlds on stage and off.
The legacy of Rodney Gilbert, who passed away in November 2017, is present throughout the book and the AdvantageArts program so closely attached to it.
“We need that authentic voice,” said Gilbert in a published 2017 conversation.
“If people hear it, they will come. They need to see it because they understand it. I want to reach out and include and represent those people.”
Represent! brings a multitude of authentic voices to the young actors and students Gilbert strived to reach.